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Showing a legacy of versatility

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mahmoud Pharouk “MP” Alladin’s versatility is an undeniable aspect of the body of work on display at 101 Art Gallery. For the first time since his death in 1980, Alladin’s private collection of 48 of his drawings and paintings—dating from the 1940s—is now accessible to the public. The exhibition gives a rare opportunity to have an intimate engagement with the work of an artist whom Jackie Hinkson has described in his autobiography as “a major figure in the entire history of Trinidad art.” Alladin’s pieces show a diversity of technique and a keen exploration of various image-making media. His etchings of such folklore characters as the douen, soucouyant, lagahoo and la diablesse reveal his deftness with the scratchboard medium, as he clears away its surface through considered marks, to give life to local myths. 


His drawings with markers on Styrotex board are soft scenes of the beach and countryside that retain a tenderness and sensitivity without muting the vibrant spirit of such places. In the paintings Three Faces and New York, Alladin gives us the different characteristics of the watercolour medium, with more opaque pigments in one piece and the application of transparent hues in the other. His quick, spirited hand movements are evident in his use of graphite on brown paper to create such works as People and Dog. Pieces like those provide a pleasing contrast to more time-intensive works like the oil painting entitled Water Carriers, which illustrates his layering and building up of colours. While Alladin shows his interest in understanding the nature of a particular medium—including pastels, ink and acrylic paint—he also establishes a dialogue between them in a number of mixed media artworks. In Hosay Tadjah, a striking piece in indigo and gold, the artist combines paint and collage treatments to convey the majesty of the Muslim festival.

The collection also underscores Alladin’s capacity to work across a spectrum of image-rendering styles—from more realistic pieces like Tassa, which is a presentation of seated figures drumming before an audience, to abstract paintings like Laventille, which is completely nonobjective in its format with a mass of squares and rectangles constituting its contents. Together, the pieces in the exhibit call to mind Derek Walcott’s words written in response to one of Alladin’s art displays in the 1960s. In a review for the Guardian, Walcott said of Alladin: “He is still one of our most energetic demonstrators of media, with a restlessness that keeps his hand in every going style.” It is this multidimensionality that Alladin, who was not only a visual artist but also a teacher, poet, playwright and author, left as a legacy. 

He studied at the Birmingham College of Arts and Crafts, the Chelsea Polytechnic School of Art and Columbia University. His works have been exhibited in solo and group shows both regionally and internationally. He served for several years as the president of the Art Society and he was a key proponent of art education during his tenure as the director of culture in the Ministry of Education and Culture. Alladin also taught art in several primary schools in Trinidad and tutored in Grenada, Canada and the US, among other places. His subject matter includes landscapes, portraits, carnival characters, Hindu weddings, limbo dancers, parranderos and much more. Yet, his skill transcended the visual domain. 


In his 1967 book Man the Creator, Alladin targeted teachers and art students in his writings about music, dance, drama, literature and the visual arts. He published poems in two volumes entitled And Where is Human Man? and The Monstrous Angel. His other books are Folk Stories and Legends of Trinidad, Folk Chants and Refrains of Trinidad and Tobago, Twelve Short Stories, Folk Dances of Trinidad and Tobago and Three One-Act Plays. Through his varied efforts and roles, Alladin sought to make a difference in and with the arts. This propensity for a multifaceted existence—where self is not boxed in but rather is fleshed out on many different planes of being—and a restlessness or refusal to be comfortable with the status quo in art practice and in the society, are what this artist has left us. The latest exhibition compels us to confront that inheritance.


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